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Dalí is a person of the changeling sex, living in a future world within the domain of the Sol Fed government. Dalí is an ambassador for Sol Fed.

A changeling is someone whose body is neither inherently female nor male but can be either of those, changing structurally according to need and circumstance. Changelings are empathic, picking up on the emotions of people around them, and tend to morph their bodies to match desires and expectations, although they can also shift their shapes on their own whim.

Changelings are a minority and a fairly recent phenomenon, and are targets of hate crimes in this future world. Many people condemn them as unnatural freaks. Dalí's life has been upended by such violence: Dalí's two spouses, Gresh and Rasida, were murdered, and Dalí is still ripped up by it, scarcely caring whether they lives or dies.

Yes, two spouses. Dalí is poly. Polyamorous marriages are common in this future world. But they don't usually involve changelings and some folks are so creeped out by the idea of changelings marrying and consorting with normal folks that the prospect brings them to violence.

Dalí gets recruited to participate in undercover work to investigate these hate crimes. They ends up in jeopardy, a prisoner of a cosmic black market trader where, along with other captured changelings they is kept in a luxurious suite but faces the prospect of being sold as a sex slave.

Sharing those quarters are two other changelings, Dru and Kai. They have no idea that Dalí is working undercover and has allies who are working to spring them.

Holding the keys to their comfortable cage is Lord Rhix, he who rules this black-market domain. Rhix is the amoral vicious gangster feared by the traders and slavers and other denizens of the market, or so it initially seems, but when we get a closer look we discover a barbarian of principle, an evil lord whose stomach turns at some of the techniques of his predecessors. An enlightened hoodlum, he.

The person whose actions most directly got Dalí into this situation is Jon Batterson, son of the Sol Fed president and very much a spoiled powerful privileged wealthy villain, athletically powerful and arrogant. He is one of the bigoted haters and we learn pretty early that he's immersed in the kidnapping and selling of changelings, a convenient way to rid the Sol Fed system of unnatural freaks while profiting economically from their disposal.

Jon Batterson has a battered wife, or, rather, ex-wife. Tella Sharp escaped him and coincidentally happens to be the provider of nursing care when Dalí is recovering from Batterson's assault on her in the space station corridors. Tella finds Dalí enticing and returns for some steamy aftercare in Dalí's quarters.


DALÍ is a delightful gender fantasy. How totally fine, to be able to match one's body to one's gender of the moment, including a convenient neuter when you feel like it!

Yes, it does manage to echo the notion--held strongly by cisgender bigots and even loosely by some transgender folks (truscum)--that to properly be a given gender, your body must correspond. Being a changeling can be conceptualized as sex reassignment surgery on-the-fly, or, as Dalí's partner Rasida's journal article expressed it in the book, "A natural progression allowing transgenderism to correct itself".

But there's nothing in DALÍ that opposes ideas of gender variance that do not involve physical transitioning, and I just can't bring myself to be curmudgeonly enough to resent or criticize the formulation: it's just too damn deliciously cool. I don't have physical dysphoria and despite identifying as a gendered feminine I have never rejected my physical maleness, but if I could have a body that could speak either physical language? Hell yes, that would be more fun than being able to fly like Superman!

DALÍ avoids the pestersome problem of pronouns by using first person. "I walked down the corridor" instead of he, she, they, or some other formulation doing so. There are third party attributions of Dalí's gender--such as Brian, Jon Batterson's little brother down in the Rosetta Labyrinth referring to Dalí as "she"--but because they are third party designations of gender, we, the readers, may dissent.

There is hotness in this book. DALÍ gives us a sensuous and often horny changeling. I appreciated some of the departures from clichés that surround sexual shapeshifting characters in fantasy and science fiction, especially Tella Sharp directly lusting after Dalí as theirself, as opposed to seeking either a male or a female, and the scenes with Rhix in which Dalí is betwixt and between sexual morphologies and is manifesting with external tingly parts. That's seldom done: most tales featuring someone who can sexually shapeshift have the character bedding boys when shaped like a girl and doing girls when configured as a boy.

I was never very clear on the distinction the book attempts to make between "third gender" and "changeling". There are people who are described as "third gender"; and then "changeling" is either a subset of that or else a new and different (yet similar) thing. Tella Sharp, while examining and treating Dalí, says

"I studied third-gender anatomy, of course, but each person’s genitalia varies according to their dominant sex." Her fair complexion bloomed with rosy color as she discussed my genitals. "You don’t have one."


Seems to me that either a "third gender" person in this universe has physical anatomy that corresponds permanently to their "dominant sex", which differs from being cisgender only in the implication that they may also have a "non-dominant" sex (but we aren't told what a "non-dominant sex" actually is or what it does for a living); or else being "third gender" means one's physical anatomy is flexible and can change, in which case being "third" doesn't differ in any readily discernable way from being a changeling. As an atypical genderqueer person myself, far be it from me to cast aside or look askance at anyone else's gender identity just because I don't understand why the heck we need this additional category, but as a configuration within a work of fiction that doesn't explain it or utilize it more fully, I don't think it adds anything to the story.

Dru and Kai, the other two changelings in the story, don't change. Not because they can't, it just doesn't transpire that they ever do. Dru presents as female with a purseful of stereotypical femininity, while Kai is perennially male and manifests with textbook masculine traits throughout. I think it would have been more interesting to see Dalí interact with other changelings, but these are ersatz changelings, these two. They get gendered pronouns. Dru is all "she" and "her", and Kai is totally a "he" and "him" person throughout. Only Aja, a changeling who doesn't survive long enough to become conscious, is a "they".

Jon Batterson is a bit of a cardboard cutout, a bit too much unrelieved portrayal as stupid and dense, evil and deceitful; there's no individual and no allied group or contingent in the book which were ever in Batterson's personal orbit that he doesn't betray as soon as the opportunity presents.

The dynamic going on between Lord Rhis and Dalí is full-on neogothic: a brooding evil captor who turns out to be chock-full of ethical and moral concerns and is therefore worthy of the MC's love, and the MC can get through his emotional armor and cause him to love her too. I do love a well-delivered gothic romance and I liked the departure from conventional gothic trajectory too: the absence of any full reconciliation after he discovers Dalí's true identity as spy. Their departure scenes are more akin to heroic male opponents who express a grudging respect for their adversary. How appropriate! Well done.

DALÍ, by E. M. Hamill. NineStar Press.
E. M. Hamill

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Waldell, aka Pricess WaWa, is a bitter black gay femme, or so he would like to have us believe. Queen Called Bitch is his story.

It is a story told to us by a most erudite and expansively loquacious narrator, delivered in elegant but not particularly linear style. Waldell often begins in the middle with an excursion into his attitudes and feelings about a character before looping back to describe his history with that person. This is not a narrative of consecutive events arranged along a plot line, but more akin to what you might hear if you found Waldell at the bar and plied him with a couple shots (no more, please, he's a lightweight) and bribed the bartender to cue up Reba on the sound system for atmosphere and encouraged him to unload his tale.

An identity that includes being both gay and femme tends to be complicated: our society prefers to subsume them into each other, equivocating between gender factors and sexual orientation. Waldell doesn't specifically write as a feminine person without reference to being gay -- indeed, I'm not sure any gay male who is feminine can easily untangle that knot -- but he snarks a bit about meeting people on Grindr, "guys who think I'm a woman or beg me to be more masculine. Guys who are interested in a part time 'tranny' for play. I am neither of those things" -- writing from a feminine but not trans vantage point. "I pee standing up", he confirms.

He was a pariah in school, surviving the typical harassment doled out to sissy gay guys, but found some supportive teachers and eventually a road to connection and acceptance via the theatrical department at nearby Longwood University. He'd long since gotten in the habit of finding validation and voltage in music, television soap operas, dramatic movies, and God.

An easy and confident spirituality without shame was his to hold onto. As soon as he became old enough to notice church-based condemnation of gay people, he relegated that, along with its moldy misogynistic ideas about women, to the discard pile. The God stuff was about the inner feeling, and he had no significant doubts about that.

Queen Called Bitch is billed on the frontispiece of the manuscript as a work of fiction, complete with disclaimers about the coincidental nature of any resemblance to real people -- a time-honored confabulation used by many writers who choose to write about themselves and their own lives. But of course my own source of information about the author /character is this book, so I can't really know that, can I? And yet, I can't help thinking I do, and because of that I also find myself projecting and psychologically assessing him, making of his story something other than what he asserts of it. I don't find the cynical darkness to which he aspires, but instead see bitterness embraced as a protection, an attempt to avoid setting himself up for disappointment and heartbreak.

He's not so alone in this world: a good portion of the story revolves around the foursome of friends, the beforementioned Carol (Cann), Karen, Waldell himself, and Derek Island, and the everyday soap operas of their lives and their connections with each other.

The centerpiece is the delicately vulnerable romance between Waldell and Derek. Waldell the author shares this tale of romantic misery and thwarted love and would have us believe it was unrequited, this being the core of his broken-hearted bitterness. But as reader, I kept perceiving Waldell the character as wanting but being unwilling to believe it could be had, and second-guessing his opportunities in favor of reconciling himself in sporadic bursts of self-protective hesitation. Hence, this kind of exchange on the cellphone screen:

Me: You know I have feelings for you

Derek: I have some for you, was that not clear?

Me: I can't believe you have feelings for me. I never would have guessed. Honestly.

Derek: I've told you


Derek Island is leaving town and Waldell plots and schemes about how he is going to take the risk -- now or never -- of collecting on his first and most-wanted kiss, but he gets cold feet and a non-kiss ensues.

He's more inclined to air his grievances to Derek about how Derek does not reciprocate his feelings, building the narrative between the two of them to the effect that Derek mistreats Waldell, that Waldell is the person with the feelings. But he finds the feelings easiest to express in a forlorn mode:

Derek: I miss you my friend

Me: I can't talk to you


It is one of the minor passing characters in the story, Latesha, who gets to voice what seems apparent to me about these star-crossed novice lovers: she, who, Waldell notes, had witnessed the Derek saga firsthand, predicts to him that "one day the stars will align for you and Derek".

Queen Called Bitch, a coming-of-age and coming-of-want tale from NineStar Press. Waldell Abraham Goode

(cc: GoodReads)

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Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman, by Nicola Jane Chase (Telemachus Press: 2015)

Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity, by Marina Peralta with Penolope James (Barriers Press: 2013)



These are a pair of memoirs, one from a transgender woman and one from a bisexual woman. Both are effectively self-published (Telemachus is basically a vanity press, and Barriers Press appears to be therapist Marina Peralta's own publication vehicle). I am all too familiar with the difficulty involved in getting a conventional publisher to publish an LGBTQIAetc memoir, and both of these books were recommended to me in response to my searches for such stories.

I began Nicola Jane Chase's book a couple months ago and ended up putting it aside, unfinished, for several weeks because it did not draw me in at the beginning. To be honest, I was expecting a standard narrative story arc and didn't get one. I mean, I opened the book expecting "My childhood was like this, you see, and here is when I first began to realize I was different from other males, that I was one of the girls instead of one of the boys", and then a tale of events and realizations and so on.

Instead, I was immediately plummeted into the current mental world of a trans woman. Chase warns in the prologue that "All true tales should start at the beginning. However, in my case I can't be sure when that beginning was." I flipped the page and she was already writing of her impending sex reassignment surgery appointment. The flow of Tea and Transition is nonlinear, more akin to listening to a very verbose and chatty companion rattle off thoughts from the top of her head than akin to reading someone's meticulously wrought story of what it was like to be her and to go through the experiences she has gone through. There's no objective reason to require a chronologically linear tale, and, indeed, many excellent authors bounce around between years and settings in the process of telling what they wish to tell, but it did not sit well with me.

I found myself formulating a mental image of the author, and it was one I was not comfortable with. To be quite blunt, I discovered myself thinking of her as a scatterbrained airhead, all fluff and trivialities. I felt squirmy about that, because there's a strongly misogynistic strand in that, of thinking of women in that dismissive fashion, and a transphobic / trans-hostile strand also, I think, involved in viewing transgender women that way as well: was I harboring creepy sentiments that I needed to deconstruct and examine before proceeding?

I eventually decided -- somewhat cautiously -- that I was not guaranteed to always like each and every woman, nor each and every transgender woman, that some individual human beings may indeed leave me with the impression of being scatterbrained, and that unless I had a pattern of seeing all folks in a category that way, it wasn't necessarily an illegitimate reaction on my part. So I picked up the book and this time I kept reading. And it got better.

There are many books written by transgender people which are more like the book I was initially expecting, books that detail identity-formulation from some point in childhood. Tea and Transition is entirely focused on adulthood and in large part this is because Nicola Jane Chase did not become conscious of a differently gendered sensibility until well into adulthood. Even at that point, there is not as much mulling over of the relevant issues as I would have wished. I suppose I'm guilty of some degree of projection: why hadn't Nicola been less comfortable considering the prospect that she was, indeed, a she? Instead, the narrative describes considering it, dipping a toe in the water (cross-dressing), liking it, and proceeding blithely onward. Be that as well it may, the journey soon enough required serious commitment, and in this, the author describes an almost agonizing passion to hold on to this despite the threat of high prices to be paid. Will she be able to retain good relationships with her mother, best friend, her place of employment and career? There's nothing trivial or airheaded about her evaluation and acceptance of these risks, which were clearly nontrivial risks. And there is more about this aspect of the trans journey in Tea and Transition than most such narratives provide.

At some point I came to realize where some of my hostility was coming from. It's defensive on my part. I myself identified with girls back when I was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, presenting to other people as a genderqueer and gender inverted individual, I have encountered an expectation, sometimes explicit but more often hinted at, that I, and any other male who identifies as a girl in some fashion, crave the specific female experience of being a sex object. It's more of a sore point for me that I realized, but there you have it: my sexuality outgrew in complicated ways but it was entwined with gender and had a whole lot more innocence (and perhaps eventually the erotic potential of corruptibility thereof) than it had of either the boys' contempt-flavored delight in the crude or the adult female sex object's confident enjoyment of a status as arousal material for others.

And Nicola Jane Chase was too much exactly what I'd been suspected of: someone whose realized identity as femme was very much grounded in a desire to wear Victoria's Secret and to slink into a bar and be hit on, to be visually desirable precisely as a female, to be the hot chick.

So yeah, my hostility. Yeesh, I'm basically a frowny-faced disapproving censorious puritanically prudish tight-lipped femme person, shaking my head negatively at Ms. Chase. I don't think it's quite slut-shaming (I like and respect sluts), it's more... sex-object-shaming. Calling her shallow in my head and all that.

At a minimum, chalk one up for Nicola Jane Chase for teaching me more about myself. Title available from Amazon.



I picked up the Marina Peralta title specifically because I had not run across many bisexual coming-out / coming-of-age stories and I wanted some for my bookshelf collection. I'd read little articles and online posts on Facebook and whatnot about how bisexuals were not exactly embraced by the lesbian and gay folks within the LGBTQIAetc community but were instead treated as if they'd already been spoken for since gay males and lesbians had had their turn, while at the same time treated as if they were hedging their bets with one foot in the straight world, and regarded as risky partners who would be likely to dump you to be in a straight relationship.

For the second time, I was somewhat disappointed that the book I picked up didn't meet my initial expectations and projected assumptions. Peralta's book does not delve much into participation in the modern lesbian-gay-etc community and this is in part because of the temporal setting: she came of age and had most of her relevant experiences (as recounted in the book) in the 1950s and 1960s before a post-Stonewallian movement existed to contend with or belong to.

What WAS fascinating about Barriers to Love was the author's narrative of trying to understand her sexuality in an era when "bisexual" wasn't really on the map of possibilities to choose from. As a genderqueer person who came of age when there was no identity such as my own available to me, I saw parallels there and could relate to her own slow and gradual trying-on of identities only to find out later "no, that's not really it", and to keep requestioning and searching for a valid answer all pretty much on her own.

Also of relevant interest was the way in which conventional heterosexual appetite, for a girl of that era and in that setting (Mexico), was treated as a perversion instead of being nonchalantly accepted as normative. It was a world in which females with their own sexual interest in boys were told this is bad, this is wrong. I think we forget how this maps onto and against the tapestry of attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality, and this becomes more vivid precisely because of the author's bisexuality: YES, once confronted with the even more scary prospect of her daughter's being a lesbian, the author's mom becomes interested in seeing her paired with an appropriate male, but her first sexual interest was towards a male and the same mom was appalled to see that appetite expressed and condemned it and did what she felt she needed to do to kill it and prevent it from consummation.

From Peralta, too, I would have appreciated more internal / mental life, more about the inside thinking processes that led up to concluding "Hey, I am a bisexual person". (Or the equivalent realization in her own terms if she came to that realization before being exposed to the concept).

It is, however, a moving personal account and although it is rooted in a specific time and culture, it has a lot of universal content about what it can be like to be sexually receptive to both sexes and how the two patterns are similar and how they are different and how others perceive and react.


I have some very fresh news but it isn't ripe yet. Watch this space. I hope to have new things to reveal soon.

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The following is a letter sent to Newsday in response to their printing of op ed article "The Myth of Gender-Neutral Parenting", available here. Newsday declined to print this letter.




Neuroscientist Debra Soh does a disservice to gender-variant people and to parents attempting gender-neutral childrearing ("The myth of gender-neutral parenting", NEWSDAY 2/5/2017, page A 30).

Imagine, if you will, that you have a mango snowcone in one hand and a mint snowcone in the other. Hurl the mango snowcone at the nearest wall from a distance of 5 feet. You get a massive splatter of orange ice a couple feet in diameter. Now hurl the mint snowcone, aiming about 6 inches to the right of where you threw the mango cone, and now you have a second large splatter that substantially overlaps the first one but skews to the right.

THAT is what neuroscience tells us about gender: that there are differences between males and females, but that there is more variation within each population than there is on average between the two populations, and that there is a lot of overlap.

I myself am a gender-variant person, the equivalent of a spot of mango ice over in the portion of the wall primarily occupied by mint green ice-flecks. No different or unusual process caused that ice fleck to be there — ordinary geometry says that any time you have this kind of distribution pattern, with a wide spread within each group and overlaps between the two groups, you are, BY DEFINITION, going to have such points.

The purpose of gender-neutral parenting is not to impose some kind of forced androgyny on children but rather to step back from gender prescriptivism, the belief that males who are not masculine and females who are not feminine are wrong, inappropriate, and not to be approved of.

A typically masculine male child would have no more reason to feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral environment than a feminine male child like me would. Nothing bad is going to happen to him if he isn't getting his self-expression bolstered with constant messages saying that males are expected to be masculine, as long as he's supported in his self-expression.

The converse is not true. The atypically gendered child has historically experienced the world as a hostile place, because we are perpetually confronted with the message that not only are the majority of the people of our biological sex configured with a different set of personality characteristics, behaviors, priorities, and nuances, but that ours is wrong and that we should not self-express but instead should try to tuck our odd corners out of sight in shame and embarrassment.

If gender-neutral parenting is a threat to a typically gendered child's potential, the typically gendered person must be a fragile hothouse flower indeed.

———


Allan Hunter, author of THE STORY OF Q: A GENDERQUEER TALE, is a gender invert, a genderqueer activist; he presents gender theory and leads discussion groups in university women's and gender studies courses and addresses LGBTQ groups.



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Well, here's a genuine rarity— a genderqueer memoir and coming-out story! Audrey MC, which appears to be the nom de plume of Audrey Michelle Culver, has written about what it means to be genderqueer, what it is like, and how she came to that understanding of herself. And, in doing so, has beaten me to the punch.

Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, Audrey MC (Chicago: Miniminor Media 2014)



Mixed feelings, to be sure. My proposals and pitch letters have often highlighted the utter absence of any such resource:

I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted to females, that's my orientation.

I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.

In 1980 there was no book I could find by anyone like that. Still isn't.



On the other hand, to hold in my hands the story of someone else like me... even now, I experience joy and surprise to find I'm not the only one, and it feels powerful to consider our story, OUT THERE, for people to read.

Like me, the author is malebodied and raised as a boy, identifies from early on as one of the girls instead, and at puberty finds sexual attraction to the (other, female) girls. And is very driven throughout the tale by a hunger for passionate being-in-love "movie moments", romantic intensity and give-your-heart relationships.

In a world where "genderqueer" is a multi-hued grab-bag of alternative gender identities, finding so much similarity made the first chapters so compelling that I had to keep reading. There are so many other forms that genderqueer may take. The author could, of course, have been born female and less than comfortable being cast as a girl or woman; or could identify as a demiboy or demigirl, a genderfluid person, or agender -- http://genderqueeries.tumblr.com/identities

Alas, the experience of strong identification was not destined to last. The author is subject to dysphoria, feeling (as many transgender individuals describe) that the strong sense of being a girl implies or necessitates that this male body is wrong; and following up on this, the author chooses sex reassignment surgery in order to live as a female person, a lesbian.

And that, in turns, makes it unusual that the author is self-described as genderqueer. Most people whose lives follow that trajectory self-identify as transgender or transsexual. What makes Audrey genderqueer is her eventual awareness, post-transition, that she was increasingly uncomfortable with excessive femininity; as female hormones did their work, she found herself choosing increasingly androgynous or masculine modes of hair-styling and dress, presenting as a rather boyish person, eventually embracing an identity "beyond the binary" of being either male or female, woman or man.

Oh, well... the perils of overidentification and the complexities of competition betweenst male girlish folks makes for some strange reactions on my part: how is it possible to feel simultaneously disappointed and relieved to find that Audrey's experience and story isn't so closely parallel to mine?


LIFE SONGS begins with a very good first section, the portion of the story taking up roughly the first third of the book, covering childhood adolescence and early adulthood. There are good hooks, a suspenseful setup: where will this go, what's going to happen to this person in this unusual situation?

The remainder of the book is a sometimes-giddy and sometimes-painful account of romantic obsessions and joyous beginnings as Audrey chases love and finds it and loses it and chases it yet again.

The main weaknesses of the book lie with what it omits. Several sequences of long passionate buildups and the sparking of relationships are followed by short choppy detached summaries of the breakups. This is a book with far more hearts and flowers (and love songs) than storm clouds and soul-baring confrontations. Audrey's relationships with Annie, Renee, daughter Penelope, and Becca come to a close with scarcely any dialog and no more than a modicum of internal monologue. Admittedly, the author is somewhat aware of this tendency to avoid the sturm und drang of the darker side of drama, as evidenced by her description of how she broke up with Annie — deliberately leaving a note from next lover Renee where Annie would find it. Audrey describes Annie's irate arrival and confrontational accusations and crying scenes when she does so, along with Audrey's own avoidance and discomfort.

But that avoidance permeates the book itself, not merely confessing to being afraid of such scenes but glossing over losses and pains. For example, the portion of the book that describes Audrey's relationship with Renee starts on page 92; the first hint that not all is well in that particular paradise occurs on page 119, followed by a superbrief summary of the breakup on page 120, then elaborated on briefly on pages 122-123 —

By late 1995, Renee and I have been together for over five years and married for two, but our union began to crumble. We had nightly talks, navigating the potholes that had developed along our previously smooth road... From the conversations, we knew that we were no longer the team we once were...

As 1997 approached, Renee and I continued to have issues. We moved into our own apartment , trying to start fresh on our own, but we had just as many bad days as we had good.


It's not the only area of omission: I would have appreciated far more about being genderqueer specifically. One does not begin to be genderqueer only at the moment that one first realizes it and embraces the term, of course, but the discussion of gender identity above and beyond being a girl or woman originally born male starts on page 232 of a 246 page book, and again suffers from a detached kind of summary and glossing-over:

Prior to meeting Alice and before my queer enlightenment, I thought of myself simply as a lesbian with a birth defect who had it fixed. But after she entered my life and I became more involved in the queer community, I realized how absurd it was for me to identify as a lesbian, for it was a term that was so limiting in its binary construct. My identification as queer became an expression of my recognition that I completely rejected our society's imposed binary system. Nothing is that black and white. We live in greyscale, ebbing and flowing along an infinite number of points on a spectrum.


There's a likelihood here that I am being unfair to an author I overidentified with and for whom I also feel a sense of rivalry. Yet another aspect of the contradictory feelings elicited in me by that was on display when I checked up on the stature of the publisher and found that Miniminor Media does not appear to have any other titles. I looked for reviews of LIFE SONGS and found four short single-paragraph ones on Amazon, where the book is sold.

I realized I was paying far more attention to reception and reviews and whatnot for this book than I've tended to do when I've reviewed transgender and other LGBTQ books and plays and movies — another byproduct of identifying with Audrey and her book. And what I carry away with me is a somewhat ominous self-warning: I must do whatever I need to do to fend off the possibility that my book will be published but quickly sink out of sight, largely unread and unreviewed and unnoticed.
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I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.


I have a bookshelf on which my feminist theory books reside (Robin Morgan's The Anatomy of Freedom; Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology, Marilyn French's Beyond Power, Sonia Johnson's Going Out of Our Minds, Elizabeth Janeway's Man's World Woman's Place, Naomi Wolf's Promiscuities, Myriam Miedzian's Boys Will Be Boys, and so on); and I have a different bookshelf I've been populating with books pertaining to transgender experiences (Jan Morris's Conundrum, Mario Martino's Emergence, Chaz Bono's Transition, Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There, Dhillon Khosla's Both Sides Now, etc).

Serano's book kicks the transgender issue into the larger context; she's written a book that is clearly a feminist theory book; not merely about being transgender and transsexual, it is a book about what gender means, and what it means to be a feminist in relationship to gender and vice versa, exploring that from the vantage point of a person who is a lesbian, a woman, and a transsexual person. She's given me some pushback on some of my own attitudes towards people's claims to feeling specifically that their bodies, their physical morphology, is wrong, making me realize that because that specific experience is foreign to me, I've been resistant to it, inclined superficially to accept it as a possibility but inwardly pretty damn dismissive of it, believing (I confess) that most dysphoria is really about having a personality and behavior pattern that doesn't fit the expectations attached to one's biological sex. Because that's my experience, I'm feminine, girlish, womanly, yet have a male body. But no, I don't have a schematic diagram in my mind insisting that I'm supposed to have female parts. And since I don't, well, gee, the people that say they DO probably don't realize they're just mentally associating the morphology with the personality and behavior constellation that our culture attaches to it. So, Serano's right when she says that people who are queer on one possible axis can be just as opaque about another possible axis as any cisgender heterosexual conventional person. She's right that I've been that way, at least in the more private parts of my head, and she's given me a righteous shove away from that attitude.

It's a privileged attitude. I don't know what you would call it, terminology-wise: "cisgender" isn't right since I was born (and remain) male but identify as a woman or girl. Non-transsexual. Serano refers to "subconscious sex" (that schematic-diagram-in-the-head thing) and says everyone has one, but only those who have one that is a mismatch for their physiology become aware of it as something separate from their sex and their (social-behavioral) gender. Here, at last, at least, is a place in which I am a part of the sexual-gender mainstream, whatever you choose to call it, because I certainly don't have that experience. And as with many people in the privileged situation of being part of the mainstream, I've been oblivious and condescending to folks who have been describing their own, different, non-mainstream experience. Guilty as charged.



What finally prompted me to open my text editor and make a blog entry about it today, though, was this little passage on pgs 274-275:

...I was born transgender—my brain preprogrammed to see myself as
female despite the male body I was given at birth—but like every child,
I turned to the rest of the world to figure out who I was and what I
was worth... I picked up on all the not-so-subliminal messages that
surrounded me...[which] all taught me to see "feminine" as a synonym
for "weakness". And nobody needed to tell me that I should hate myself
for wanting to be what was so obviously the lesser sex.


I had been nodding along with Serano, chapter after chapter, page after page. (Even the section where she upbraided genderqueer folks like me who don't have that bodily dysphoria and try to condense Gender down to social roles and behaviors and personality characteristics). But I read this and realized I was shaking my head. This didn't match my experience at all.


I don't know when I first became aware that The World in the large authoritative sense considered girls and women to be inferior, but for me it was preceded by many years in which I thought the only people who thought so were people who belonged to an obviously inferior and suspect class — boys. They obviously thought so, but who cared what THEY thought about anything, if you even wanted to dignify anything they did by calling it "thinking"? If anything, their opinions of girls just added to the evidence that they themselves were inferior, because anyone could clearly see the real facts of the matter. Girls were mature, self-monitoring and self-controlling of their own behavior. Girls could be mean, but if they were mean it wasn't because they were like untamed dog-creatures frothing and lunging at the ends of their leashes, as the boys were. And most of the girls weren't mean, most girls were kind people, thoughtful people, trying to be good to other people as part of being good citizens.

By the time I was realizing that many (maybe most) adult men believed themselves superior to adult women, I was also hearing the voices of the women's liberation movement; it was the era I grew up in. And I was older yet when it began to dawn on me that so many adult men considered BOYS superior to GIRLS. Seriously??! Are you fucking KIDDING me?!? At first when I encountered this I interpreted it as meaning "the boys are more important in the long run because they will grow up to be men" (and by then I'd realized they thought men were superior to women), but I still assumed it was like someone putting a higher value on a sack of seeds than they would put on a bag of ripe yummy blueberries because the seeds would eventually yield a whole crop that would be worth more, but you still don't want a mouthful of seeds instead of a mouthful of blueberries if you see what I mean. I was already nearly an adult before I fully realized that many adult men viewed the actual characteristics exhibited by boys in general as superior to the characteristics exhibited by girls in general. Meaning that they were proud of exhibiting those same characteristics even as adult men and had never changed course and started trying to emulate girls and women in order to be socially interactive and cooperative humans and stuff.

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Always Love Lucy Theatre

I had enthusiastic anticipations for this show--the advance press on it said it had been rewritten to spotlight issues pertaining to transgender people, and, more specifically, that the character of Eliza Dolittle was being recast as a female to male transgender person. Female to male experience is far less often depicted, so I was really looking forward to the show.

The advance press also noted that this had been accomplished "with almost no changes to the original script".

The performance I saw did indeed match my recollection of Shaw's original dialogue for the most part. Indeed, this version of Pygmalion was pretty close to what you would get if you simply did a cut and paste job on Shaw's classic text, substituting pronouns (replacing "her" with "him") and shoehorning in a couple extra lines of Eliza's dialogue to explain that she wanted to become a gentleman in order to be accorded full dignity and respect and not be beneath Higgins and his friend Pickering, as she perceived his housekeeper to be.

My overall reaction was disappointment: it doesn't work. The original dialogs between Eliza Dolittle and Henry Higgins sheds no meaningful light on gender issues, nor, without far more substantial additional elaborations and modifications, do they provide any kind of situational platform for producer Saima Huq, director Anthony Pound, or the cast to do so. And, reciprocally, modifying Eliza Dolittle's transformative journey so that she is becoming a gentleman rather than becoming a lady fails to show us many new aspects of Shaw's play, either.

Pygmalion in its classic form is about class and the question of presentation— to what extent is our identity merely a matter of how we present ourselves? That's practically a hand-calligraphied invitation to explore that same question as it applies to gender identity, but the personnel who crafted this variant did not RSVP to that invitation; they didn't go there. A playwright considering such issues might choose to assert the absence of any real differences between gendered experiences aside from projected expectations, or might instead choose to use the play to outline the large differences in gendered behavior that were solidly in place during the timeframe depicted, but in this case opted to do neither.

The original Pygmalion is also at its core a tale of developing sexual tension: a lady is an appropriate object of interest for a gentleman of Professor Higgins' class, and the immediate consequence of transforming Eliza Dolittle into a lady is that he finds himself attracted to her, possessive of her, in ways he had not anticipated. The modified Pygmalion had the opportunity here, once again, to play with sexual orientation as well as gender, but in failing to tease out some interesting new tensions or observations it instead left us with a dissonant confusing patch of dialog and interaction in which Higgins is neither fascinated with the man that Eliza has become nor with the woman who underlies the performance as man, and instead utters the original unmodified Shaw lines in a context where they illuminate no new truths and in fact make no sense.

We do at least see Shaw's gendered assumptions exposed, if not neatly skewered, in Higgins' protective behavior and in Dolittle's insistences that Higgins should take responsibility for Dolittle's situation. He has transformed her, but if he has no personal interest in her, what will become of her/him? In this, we see the fingerprints of Shaw's projection onto women of his assumptions about women's vulnerability and need of care. Indeed, the play comes across as willfully blind to the social currency of being (perceived as) male and the opportunities for employment and independent social success that would derive from those, especially with the added benefit of gentlemanly manners and diction. We're treated to Dolittle's tearful complaints that she has nowhere to go and fewer options than she'd had as a woman selling flowers in the streets of London.

Several things are extremely noisy by their absence: Eliza Dolittle at no point expresses any desire to be a man aside from the additional socioeconomic gains she'd get by going above and beyong merely becoming a lady to become a gentleman instead. Higgins teaches Dolittle how to modify her speech but at no point is she given any instruction in the gendered attributes of gentlemanly behavior. Placed in a social setting to try her wings and test her progress, she is criticized for her choices of topics but not spoken to about appropriate conversation for a male in mixed company or, for that matter, for a male among other men.

By default, the play fails to address any issues particularly pertinent to transgender people in part because it fails, on the surface, to contain any transgender people. Eliza Dolittle is a woman in drag, no more a transgender individual than Dustin Hoffman was in Tootsie.

Gender is not class. Grafting gender into an otherwise unmodified play about class and expecting anything meaningful to be revealed is quaint, but Marx and Engels did that 120 years ago and we've had both feminism and gender theory to draw upon since then.

My opinions on the failure of the this version of Pygmalion to deliver on its stated promise notwithstanding, I saw a well-acted performance of Shaw's Pygmalion (nearly intact despite the inserted gender oddity):

Christopher Romero Wilson does Henry Higgins as a willfully clueless social maladroit with a genius for phonics, a geek of the first order with the social awkwardnesses that often plague the single-minded. He's irate, temperamental, and uninclined to be considerate of others. If Wilson tends to sing Higgins all on a single note, it is fair to point out that Shaw wrote him that way.

Pickering is performed with warmth and quiet dignity by David Burfoot. He exudes calmness and kindness that helps anchor an otherwise frictitious bunch of characters. Burfoot conjures up a solid Pickering with nuances and small gestures and tone of voice.

Eliza Dolittle, aka Elijah Dolittle, is rendered for us by producer Saima Huq, whose convincing versatility in speech diction and rhythm as well as her adept gender fluidity onstage were unable to quite compensate for the problems inherent in the insufficiently changed dialog.

Eliza's dad Alfred Dolittle is a character written to steal the show out from under the other performers if the actor is so inclined, and without stepping far beyond an understated confident portrayal, Tony White obliges in this regard. His Alfred is a quite believable rogue and social egalitarian with aplomb and deadpan humor.

Henry's long-suffering mom Mrs Higgins is acted by Bette Shifman, who pivots from exasperation with Henry to a friendlier interaction with Pickering and, later, with Eliza and Alfred. Shifman lets her character grow in the role, warming up to the people she becomes involved with.

The Eynsford-Hill trio—the matriarch (Nikki Chawla), termagant daughter Clara (Sabrina Zara) and situationally maladroit son Freddy (Harsh Lochan) are delivered as cameo or caricature characters, the onstage time being limited to that, and are delivered effectively by these actors.

Also in small roles in the play were Vincent Bivona multicast as Neppomuck and Bystander and Kristi Cini doing Mrs Pearce, the Parlormaid, and the Hostess.

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Sommerfugl is a dramatization of the story of Lile Elbe, described as the first trans person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in 1930.

1930 was a very different and much more binary place than today's world. If you were male you were a man and you wore man clothes and did man things, with very attenuated possibilities for overlap with the experience of being a woman. It was a time without much option of playing the role without having the expected morphology. Echoing my observation of the middle-school book Gracefully Grayson, which I reviewed on September 8, I'd say that Sommerfugl's setting similarly permits author Bixby Elliot to express the idea of a male-bodied person being a woman in simple concise terms: Einar (later Lili) discovers he likes to wear a dress and when a man flirts with him while so adorned, he finds himself responding to it, hence he's a woman. The complexities and nuances that would be more likely brought up as alternative interpretations by skeptically hostile people in today's world were not considerations in 1930, and there are advantages to that straightforward simplicity.

Wayne Alan Wilcox is convincingly pretty and demure without needing girl-clothes and a girl-hairdo to complete the impression. His gestures, facial expressions, his reactions and the way he moves, particularly when dancing, all illustrate for us that this male-bodied person is a quite believable fit from the outside as a womanly person.

Bixby Elliot appears to have chosen to have his characters speak with a post-Victorian sentence structure, something which I do believe does accurately reflect the speaking style of the 1930s. Wayne Alan Wilcox's delivery of those oft-ornate lines was sometimes stilted and woodenly precise, making the moments when we was speaking become the occasion where he sounds affected and not natural. That's unfortunate, since as the lead character he speaks a lot in this play.

Aubyn Philabaum portrays Einar/Lili's wife Grete. Philabaum is emotionally compelling when on the tearful edge of distressed cheerfulness, right on the verge of a loss of decorum and control. The same prissy Victorian dialog rolls more fluidly and elegantly from her tongue. It is Grete who, needing an artist's model, first gets a reluctant Einar into a gown and tells him what a lovely woman he makes, and she's a gleeful co-conspirator when Einar is becoming Lili for the duration of a party and it's all in good fun. She's believable in the realistic scene where the transition is ceasing to be an entertainment and where Einar, and not Lili, is the pretense, and she finds herself frightened and uncertain about how to behave towards this stranger: "I don't know who you are any more, and if I don't know who you are I don't know who I am!"

Many transitioning people find themselves in that very situation, where initially supportive friends and family members suddenly find that the overall gestalt of visual cues and shapes and adornments now causes their mind to gender that person as the destination gender and it all becomes inescapably who that person now is and not just something that that person is "doing".

Bernardo Cubria plays multiple additional love interests (Claude, who comes on to Lili, and Rudolfo who charms Grete) as well as giving us Dr. Steuben. Cubria brings a robustly masculine Latin passion to the play, which turns out to be what both Lili and Grete wanted — he's the one to sweep a girl off her feet. The similar roles in a minimalist play lacking complicated costumes caused me some difficulty with differentiating the two romantic characters, a situation that can be hard to avoid when there are more roles than actors.

Michelle David portrays Anna, the model whose lateness prompted Grete to put Einar in a dress, and also plays his sister Kira and, thirdly, the hospital nurse. She turns in a solid delivery of these multiple supporting roles. As Kira, she gives us another person who loves Einar and who is having difficulties relinquishing his identity and allowing Lili to exist and be accepted.

I was drawn into this story because of its situation: here was a person who had no opportunity to look around, take notice of transgender people, read about their experiences, and then decide "I must be one of them". The sense of identity that the main character chose was not previously in existence. Einar not only had to invent Lili, but also had to synthesize the entire phenomenon of being transgender with no role models, no name for it, no prior example of how such a thing could be done. Those of you who read my blog will recognize that I find myself in that same situation as a male girl-woman who, unlike more conventional (transitioning) transgender activists, is OK with my physiological maleness and with being perceived (accurately) as a physiological male, and wherein I'm all about trying to create head-space in people's minds for the idea that there are male girls and female boys as well as the more conventional & more typical female girls and male boys, and that we should be accepted as we are, with no pressure to change behavior, presentation, or morphology.

In the story arc of Sommerfugl, that journey of synthesis is a multi-person process, with Grete getting Einar into women's garments, Einar and Anna the model enjoying taking him out in public for the fun of it, Einar becoming increasing convinced that he is more himself when Lili and uncomfortably less so when he reverts to being Einar and has to wear boy drag again, and Dr Steuben taking things to the next level by providing the unknown and unprecedented possibility of the surgical solution.

Sommerfugal by Bixby Elliot. From Sept 24 through Oct 10, 7:30 PM at Fourth Street Theatre in Manhattan. Presented by InViolet Theatre, Directed by Stephen Brackett.

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The Library of Congress summary, provided by the publisher, reads: "Grayson, a transgender twelve-year-old, learns to accept her true identity and share it with the world; middle grade fiction".

Gracefully Grayson's title character is a male-bodied person who uses male pronouns throughout (as does the author, unlike the publisher who wrote the summary, and so I will do likewise); but Grayson secretly understands himself to be a girl.

When literature is written for a middle grade audience, there are both constraints and freedoms available that are not present when writing for an adult audience: Grayson twirls in an oversized shirt and imagines it to be a skirt, and this motif, repeated throughout, acts as a stand-in for all of the complexity behind "What does it MEAN to be a girl instead of a boy if you're male?"

That's somewhat necessary, since a book aimed at 10 year olds could be a tough sell on the market if it were to delve excessively or explicitly into questions of genitalia, gendered aspects of sexuality, or musings about sociology and biology and their respective input into behavior and its interpretations.

But it's also freeing. I can state from experience that saying (as an adult) "I'm different, I'm actually a woman inside" means having to face a gauntlet of questions — "Do you dislike your male body?"; "If you just prefer a skirt and like to wear your hair long, how does that make you a woman, Scottish men wear kilts and men at several times throughout history had their hair long?"; "Are you claiming that your brain developed in a female pattern in utero?"; "Will you be getting surgery and, if so, which ones, and how about hormones?"; "How do you know you're 'like a woman', as you say, since you've never been one?" — Grayson's story operates on a simpler and more elegant level; for Grayson and for his classmates and family, his being a girl instead of a boy is forbidden, and hidden in secrecy, and then at a certain point not hidden and on display for people to accept or be shocked at and outraged about, but it isn't deconstructed and thrown back in his face with a demand for more explanation.

And because none is demanded, none is given. Is Grayson going to be sexually attracted to males? Certainly some of the other kids think this must be the case, and, from their behavior, so do some of the adults; but if Grayson himself has sexual feelings and inclinations of any form, we aren't brought in on them, and sexual feelings and orientation don't appear to play a part in Grayson's own consideration of his gender. Will Grayson seek a physical transition? The question is never posed to him and in his imagination he doesn't visualize himself with (or, for that matter, without) female bodyparts, just with girlish adornments and garments. At the end of the book, we don't know. We're left with the strong sense that Grayson will seek to be perceived as a girl and accepted as a girl, including (as strongly hinted in a late scene) going into the girls', not the boys' bathroom. But that's as much as he knows and that's as much as we know after reading the final pages.

Interestingly, this makes it one of the few coming-out narratives I could identify with from start to finish. (Although Grayson is described by the publisher as a "transgender" character, I was able to read it as a story about another genderqueer individual like me, a gender invert who is, and would remain, a male-bodied girl).

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I was in Bluestockings (the book store) the other day and a book titled INTERSEX (For Lack of a Better Word) caught my eye.



Since I fancy myself an activist in the gender & sexual prefs rainbow these days, and intersex is (like genderqueer) one of the latter-day additions, I figured it would do me good to read it and get more of a sense of the experiences of intersex people. Because, you know, even though my situation doesn't really overlap theirs very much, it would be useful to have at least a generic familiarity with their concerns in case someone asks me someday while I'm presenting about genderqueer issues and whatnot, right?

OK, OK... so I should be aware, by this point, that I'm likely to recognize myself in descriptions and identities I wasn't previously familiar with. It's not like I don't have a lifetime history of that. I'm not now identifying as an Intersex person, but reading Thea Hillman's exposition left me with the strong urge to write her an email or something, commenting on things we have in common.

Hillman herself had run into the term "intersex" quite some time before deciding that it truly applied to her. She's had Virilizing Adrenal Hyperplasia from early childhood on, but received medical interventions that blunted the impact of her body's unconventional cocktail of hormones. "Intersex", she thought, "means people who have ambiguous genital, and I have normal-looking genitals". It took awhile for her to decide that yes, her experiences with doctors peering and poking at her breasts and vagina and inspecting her clitoris, being prescribed various hormonal medications and taking them as shots down at the nurse's office at school, internalizing a sense of herself as not necessarily OK, yeah, that qualified her to use the label. It took longer than that, and based on her writing seems to be an ongoing process, to be comfortable with the idea that she would at times be the face of intersex, the person showing up at conferences as the designated intersex person. Worrying that she wasn't "intersex enough" and that someone else would challenge her, discredit her.

As I read that, I found myself nodding because I often have that feeling about my own identification as genderqueer. That someone on some message board or in some forum or at some conference is going to say that if I don't ever feel a need to present as female, if I'm not genderfluid or otherwise inclined to want to be seen as a female person at least some of the time, and I'm a male-bodied person who is attracted to female people, then I'm just some cisgender hetero guy who wants to be edgy and is therefore colonizing the experience of legitimately marginalized minorities. Yeah, I know what it's like to worry and wonder that you've stolen someone else's label and that sooner or later someone's going to object.

Then Hillman goes on to describe trying to network, especially with transgender people. And finding that although, yes, they have a lot in common that links them, she often finds the issues of medical transitioning to be divisive. Because for intersex people, being surgically modified to pass as one sex or the other is something so often done TO them without their fully-informed consent, very often as infants or young children. Hillman describes how disconcerting it was to be the lone intersex activist surrounded by transgender activists discussing surgical intervention as a solution, not a problem, and describing it in glowingly positive terms as an choice-affirming and life-affirming resource. To complicate matters, Hillman was informed that she, too, qualifies as transgender: "By taking hormones", she was told, "you transitioned away from being intersex towards something else, towards a more traditional female".

And there again I was struck with the sense of shared experience. I'm not a transitioner and the issues of surgery and other medical intervention make me feel pretty alien and different too. And I, too, of course, have been told many times that the term 'transgender' applies to me, as a male rather than female girl-person, regardless of whether or not I wish to modify my body accordingly.

Sorry if I sound like I think I'm such a Special Snowflake, but always after experimenting with so many of these identity-labels, I've found myself backing away politely: "No, that's not it. It's something else".

When I finished the book, I made a note of the publisher — Manic D Press — and made an entry for it in my query-letter database.

Oh, and yeah: I'm no longer under consideration by the literary agent who requested the full manuscript. And with 640 queries to literary agents and 589 rejections, I've finally crossed the literary Rubicon and sent my first query letter off to a small publisher. It's something I've avoided doing up until now because more than a handful of literary agents have a policy against taking on any new author if any publishers have already seen their book and passed on it. And so up until now I've maintained the ability to say "nope, no publishers have seen it". Except that that isn't 100.00% true. Because when I attended the New York Writers Workshop Nonfiction Pitch Conference back in October 2013, one of the conference events was the opportunity to pitch our books to each of three publishers. Publishers, not literary agents. Well, so if I've actually been deflowered anyway...

Mostly though simply because it was time. The publishers I will be querying will be small publishers, the sort that consider small-volume titles and do not require that only literary agents contact them about books. Publishers that publish niche titles that literary agents tend to pass on because they won't attract a mainstream readership and hence won't appeal to mainstream presses with the larger profit margins that a mainstream book sale can command.

You'll perhaps have noticed that I've never mentioned the specific literary agents I've queried when I've blogged about them. Just a sort of superstitious nervousness on my part. I don't suppose there's any reason to keep it a secret, nor any reason to keep secret the fact that I'm querying any specific publisher. Probably less so, in fact, since I'm only going to query one publisher at a time.

The one I'm starting with is Seal Press.


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Back in January, I posted to several groups and forums and posting areas that I participate in, telling folks I'd written a book that was a coming-out and coming-of-age story about growing up genderqueer, and asking for advance readers.

I just recently got a series of emails from one of those people who, having found time to read my book, sent me thoughtful comments and feedback.


The following are comments from five consecutive emails (and hence the rest of this post is not me speaking). The only editing I've done is to omit a sentence or two that were on another related topic.



*******


I'm reading your book now. I must say it's a very interesting unorthodox Bildungsroman, and there should be more of these around, so that those who feel queer could suffer less, knowing that not all people are squareminded!

*******

I'm half way through it now and I felt very very identified with your accounts of your childhood. I was regarded as a weirdo myself due to my adherence to the adult world and to the dogmatism inherent to it, which I had absorbed and I applied in my behaviour and relationships. That wasn't very wise, but I was young and I couldn't have known better... As a result I was abused for years by my peers, even when my peers changed through the years! But I managed, just as you did, and after acute suffering and suicidal tendencies, I overcame their criticisms and kept on being faithful to who I am.

Other weirdos around me tried to mingle and be a mimicry of "normality"; my sister, for instance. But she grew up to became suicidal in her adult life. Thus, we can consider ourselves lucky!

As your narration sounded so familiar to my ears, I was thinking to myself "why does this guy consider himself queer? his life is like mine" - that is, it's normal from my point of view -. Now I am reading the part in which the protagonist is having some sex both with a boy and a girl - non penetrative yet - and I remember when I had a girl friend I loved so much that I would have gone to bed with her - although it didn't happen -. ;-:-D

My step daughter/son aged nearly 14 is transgender, and s/he has gone through some shit already, although I think s/he is clear in her/his mind about stuff. Book like yours are very necessary, you know...

... Now I'll keep on reading, I'm wondering what is happening next with this guy...


*******

Hey, the colonel in page 150 is a tough one, I love him! :-D Resembles some gay friend of mine...

*******

Your book was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the last part of it, when Derek investigates and tries to be himself despite everything. When he wears the wraparound skirt it reminds me of myself on the day I got rid of bullies. I was wearing a wig and acting crazy because I no longer cared, and when they learnt that they left me alone forever. And your allusions are very interesting. Conundrum has been in my list for years until I finally found that it is available in pdf in the net. It is in my to-read list.

When Derek was made to sign all those consent papers to put him in that institution I was like "DON'T!! DON'T DO IT!! THEY ARE CHEATING AND WANT TO PUT YOU AWAY!!!" I mean, really? Are we in Iran or something? God!

*******

Why on earth people are so influence by external stuff such as aesthetics? In Derek's case, he is just being himself in his choice of clothes which happen to have some esoteric symbolic meaning in our society and which are so crucial in how we see ourselves or in how others do that.

In my case, after years of repression I just showed a bit of myself when I was acting crazy with that wig. It's not that the wig had some special meaning or was any recognizable symbol for others. I think they was thought I was hopeless :-D :-D

*******



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ahunter3: (Default)
As promised, a review of my talk at Life in Nassau / Nassau LGBT Center in Plainview.

It's hard to believe that was over two weeks ago. I'm still in the process of recovering from bronchitis infection. Two days before the presentation I started having some early symptoms and I was quite worried that the cough (it started with a cough) was going to take away my voice before Thursday night; I spent Thursday afternoon drinking hot herbal tea and gargling with salt water and nodding or making hand gestures or monosyllabic grunts as replies to anais_pf... but it worked out well, I had the energy and the voice to do it and, frankly, I nailed it!

I did a pretty decent job of maintaining eye contact, and no one complained of not being able to hear me, which was a relief since I'm very quiet-spoken and people often DO complain about that when I address a group.



As I explained earlier, I used a lot of material from my November 14 blog posting, including the three illustrations I used there, printed onto nice sturdy 24 inch x 36 inch posterboard suitable for ongoing use if I get the chance to make the same presentation elsewhere.

The main, most important diagram, was this one, the one I refer to as the distribution diagram:



Orange is male, green is female, left is masculine, right is feminine. I described the distribution graph as being what you'd get if you hurled a mango snowcone at the wall and then followed up with a mint snowcone that landed somewhat to its right.

The main departure from the blog posting was the development of representative characters. I first introduced the room to "Dan", conventionally masculine male over on the left side of this distribution graph. Then I introduced his girlfriend "Karen", a conventionally feminine female over on the right.

With the two of them as examples, I sort of fleshed out the experience of having your own experience match up with cultural expectations, showing how for the two of them there wasn't any need to have different terminology, "SEX" and "GENDER", and why they would find it confusing and unnecessary to make the distinction, even as tolerant friendly non-judgmental people.

At the same time, I made the point that the distribution diagram shows that there always WILL BE orange particles over on the right and green ones over on the left — because any time you have a scattered distribution like that, with overlap between the two populations, those kinds of points will invariably be present.

Then, from there, I described myself, and using myself as an example, described the situation of being one of those outlying points, a gender invert, in my case a feminine male person. I described myself in much the same way I'd described Dan and Karen, fleshing out the experience, but now I could show how messages about male-bodied people would describe such people as masculine (which I am not), and messages about feminine people would describe such people as female bodied (which I am not), and by doing so I illustrated why it was so useful and necessary to distinguish between SEX and GENDER.


A couple people who don't normally attend Life In Nassau, but who had met me through a separate ongoing Queer Munch, came to hear the presentation, and they along with a couple Life in Nassau regulars who also have alternative gendered experiences, asked questions at the end and elaborated on a lot of the points I'd been making, which added depth to the talk.

One of the more telling snippets of feedback I heard was from someone who does not consider herself gender-atypical but who has been exposed to the general concepts of being genderqueer and so forth: "I really liked it that your talk was not all full of instructions about 'Don't ever say this' or 'You should never do that'... your talk was all positive and accepting of people with all kinds of gender identities and differences. Most of these things I've gone to before, it's been all about what we have to be careful about in order not to offend people or oppress their sexual identity or whatever. I liked this a lot better".

Good! I'm not trying to position myself or those in my situation as fragile victims of evilbad normal folk. I'm convinced that if they understand us, they'll adjust their behavior accordingly simply from due consideration for our circumstances. Or enough of it that when they don't we'll sass them back and that will be sufficient. Personally I'm not interested in playing the victim card nor in whipping out my scars and playing "my oppression trumps yours".


I've begun negotiations to present at SUNY / Old Westbury, where I was a women's studies student in the late 1980s, perhaps to some womens' studies classes or perhaps to the independently-run women's center on campus. I also want to connect with Identity House and/or other LGBTQish centers in Manhattan to begin exploring the possibility that I have content that they're not currently presenting, and hence would make my presentation there.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Boy Meets Girl is a movie featuring Michelle Hendley as Ricky, a trans girl in a small Kentucky town. It's a conventional romantic comedy: the main character has a long-term friend she's known since 1st grade — Robby (Michael Welch) — who has not tended to think of her in romantic terms until she starts to get involved with someone else. Meanwhile, Ricky is seeking to get into a fashion school in New York, and hovers by the mailbox hoping for the acceptance letter, but receives a "regrets, sorry" form letter instead, and is reconciled to giving up her dream of being a fashion designer. Everyone pulls together behind her back to crowdfund her so she can pursue her career after all, thus not only providing a happy ending to the fashion-design career subplot but also demonstrating to her that she is loved and appreciated and cared for.

Obviously, casting a movie around a trans person puts an unconventional twist on the conventional romcom architecture, which is in and of itself a powerful message: yes, you've seen this kind of movie before, and, see, you have no difficulty relating to the main character, so yep, we're people just like you are.

Hendley gives us a confident and admirably self-possessed Ricky. The situation is one that would have easily yielded quite believable scenes of alientation and violence and the drama of ugly confrontation, but this movie is not another Boys Don't Cry. Despite the southern conversative small-town environment, Ricky, who grew up here, exists as a resident, not secretive about her identity, and accepted at face value by considerably more people than not, and handles the exceptions with grace and courage.

The movie doesn't quite candy-coat matters, though. In the scene where Robby is accusing her of discarding her new romance interest, Francesca, he says she needs to be more careful about the feelings of people she gets involved with, stating that we are all of us struggling with issues of intimacy; in the heat of the argument he accuses her of excusing herself from emotional responsibilities she should be held liable for, worse than a real...

Robby halts himself in midsentence there but not before the hurt has been inflicted, and thus is the movie's most poignant scene set up: Ricky acknowledges what Robbie had said about us all strugging, but observes "yes, but the rest of you have an 'us' to turn to in those struggles. The only 'us' I've ever have to turn to contains no one but me. Would you like to try that for awhile and see how that goes?"

[Apologies for not having the quote verbatim; it was much better than I've rendered it here but I can't find it online and I couldn't exactly jot it down in the movie theatre]


That feeling of never having a shared identity-in-common, of always being alone with it, of not having a sense of "us" the way mainstream cisgender guys and girls do, is one of the most profound elements of being a gender-variant person. And why we seek a support community.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Revision project is successfully completed!

This thing was written, originally, as a nonfiction memoir, but since I'm currently hawking it mainly as a work of fiction, and because I've gotten enough feedback over the last couple years that the writing is a little "disappointing", it made sense to me to go back in and translate generic descriptions of how things were into individual representative scenes, complete with dialog and action and so forth.

That tends to create much longer, wordier blocks of text. One doesn't need to lay down a lot of words in order to say something like "I had tapered off and then quit spending time with the flagpole folks who sang the religious songs. I'd attended some evening sessions in various folks' houses and one day was riding back to White Rock with one of the guys when his VW bus ran out of gas coming down the hill. He cheerfully 'put it in the hands of the Lord' and managed to coast to the traffic light then creep through a left turn and then pick up speed down the next hill and into the service station, and he praised Jesus for making sure we got where we were going without any fuel. I became aware that I simply did not believe what they believed and even though they were not at all confrontational about it I felt less and less comfortable, as if I were faking it just to be singing the songs, so I dropped out of that scene."

But if you were going to do that like a screenplay, well, let's see, let's have me arrive and greet some people, come up with some names, specify 3-4 characters standing around the piano, try to recapture the feel of their friendly but treacly way of interacting, put some private thoughts in my head, a line or two of a song, some more dialog, get into the VW bus, some dialog taking place in the van before it runs out of gas, hmm better describe how we're going down this steep hill, NOW run out of gas, now have the driver comment on putting it in the hands of the lord... OK now describe coasting through the traffic light and slowly making the corner then picking up speed down the hill, and the guys in the van doing the Praise Jesus thing, and more internal dialog, then me getting out of the van, some more contemplation, elaborating on me not feeling comfy with those folks any more, then a wrapup sentence or two indicating that this event among others led to me tapering off and dropping out of the folk-religious singers group.

Guess what, we've sprawled out into several pages to cover a scene that used to be described in a paragraph!


So alongside of that, I streamlined and trimmed and hacked off subplots, condensed some characters into one character, and ended up with a narrative that sticks a lot tighter to the central story line, and that seems like a good thing too.

Overall, the manuscript has gained weight, but not too badly.

Old: 302 pages, 95,900 words
New: 318 pages, 96,800 words

With the revision finished, I've gone back to querying. Another 17 went out via email or are queued up for delivery to the post office for snailmailing.

Stats:

Total Queries: 470
Rejections: 380
Outstanding: 90

As NonFiction: total queries = 332
Rejections: 320
Outstanding: 12

As Fiction: total queries = 138
Rejections: 60
Outstanding: 78


Since it's a new edition, I'm again interested in beta readers. If you'd like to stick your nose into this tome, email me backchannel: ahunter3@earthlink.net


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ahunter3: (Default)
So... I recently replied to a post on one of the gender forums I'm on, a post from someone doing a research project titled "Are You Transgender?" —


> I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted
> to females, that's my orientation.
>
> I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.
>
>
> I don't know if you'd like to include me or not, but I will
> definitely participate if you wish to interview me.


She wrote back and asked me several questions and we exchanged emails and so on. Somewhere along the way I mentioned that I'm trying to have a book published, my coming-out story, "narrative / memoir, possibly marketed as fiction. No author's agent yet".

So she wrote back: "Awesome! What are the agents telling you?"

To which I responded:

> The responses I've gotten over the last year and a half of querying
> tend to fall into one of these categories:
>
> a) "Nope, not our thing, not interested in your idea for a book". The
> largest number of replies fall into this category. No huge surprise
> there. The resources for authors looking for literary agents let you
> search for agents who represent memoirs, or literary fiction, or young
> adult. They do not let you perform a search for literary agents who
> represent LGBTQ coming-out stories. Hence I could either do a lot of
> research and narrow down the pool of potential agents and then send my
> queries or I could just send my queries to the next batch of people
> who represent memoirs or whatever. The latter is actually faster and
> easier to do as a sort of repetitive chore, semi-automated, like job
> hunting.
>
> b) "Interesting idea, but you need more of a social platform. Who
> will buy your book? You need to become more well-known as an expert
> on the subject". This is the 2nd most common reply, at least to the
> queries that position my book as nonfiction. (It's a nonfiction
> thing; fiction authors don't have the same strong expectation of
> pre-existing fame)
>
> c) "Interesting idea but your implementation of it based on the first
> 5 pages isn't quite what we hoped for, for some vague unspecified
> reason".
>
> d) "It isn't quite right for our small agency's lineup but it's a
> fantastic idea, the world needs books like this, best of luck with it"
>
> e) "We'd really like to publish a book on this topic and I was so
> excited to read your query letter but frankly we don't like your
> writing, it's a disappointment, sorry" (ouch!)
>
> f) "We have to decline to represent your book because it too closely
> resembles one we're representing"



Well, that was on the 19th. In the following weeks I've replayed my last answer several times and thought back on the agents' replies and I've come to realize I have way too many in category E to not take it seriously. The rest can be tossed into a giant hold-all basket labeled "Keep on Querying" but yeah, there are too many agents who say they would have liked to have represented a book matching my description, but they don't like my book. Don't like my writing.



So. I'm doing a major rewrite, first one since March 2013. In that rewrite I was focused on condensing. I had 500 pages and in March 2013 I stripped out event-dead and dead-end bits that I decided I could dispense with and ended up with a 295 page story. It was my second condensation pass (hey, I started out with a 900,000 word autobiography, which is is around 2400 pages when single-spaced).

This rewrite is about narrative action. I'll give you an example of what I mean. Not from my own book but from Wally Lamb's book She's Come Undone.


Here's a brief section of Wally Lamb's writing:

> In those days after I moved back, I raked and bagged leaves, washed
> storm windows, shampooed rugs, took five-mile afternoon walks. I had
> the remains of Mas' painting framed at a fancy art shop for $45 and
> hung it on the stairway wall where my and Dante's wedding picture had
> been. A nice place: in late afternoon, the sun coming through the
> front door window cast a ray, a kind of spotlight, right on it.
>
> In November, I got a part-time job as Buchbinder's Gift and Novelty
> Shop. Mr. and Mrs. Buchbinder were Holocaust survivors, a scowling,
> gray-haired couple with thick accents that required me to make them
> repeat whatever they'd just asked. All day long, they
> heckled-and-jeckled each other and pointed out nitpicky little places
> I'd missed while dusting. That was my job: dusting and watching out
> for shoplifters and "stupit-heads" that might break something. They'd
> hired me for the holiday season, the day after Ronald Reagan was
> elected president.


OK, and now here's a different section from the same Wally Lamb book:


> The clock from downtown struck once. Kippy began to whimper. I
> counted my hearbeats past two hundred, daring myself to speak. "Are
> you in pain?", I finally said.
>
> She kept me waiting. Then a bedside lamp snapped on and Kippy was
> squinting at her clock. "My first day at college", she said. "Shit!"
>
> I grabbed for my Salems before the light went out. "Does it hurt?", I
> asked again. "If there's anything I can do—"
>
> She put the light on again. "I fractured my collarbone," she said.



You see how the first section is telling you what happened by making some generalization and the second excerpt is showing you by narrating it as specific events and specific dialog and not generalizing?

My book has a way higher percentage of the first type of paragraph to the second than Wally Lamb's book does. I've decided that I need more of the second variety if I want to keep my potential agents, and potential readers, engrossed in the story.

I've just finished modifying one of the most important chapters, the one titled JUNIOR HIGH TO HIGH SCHOOL, and then I redid the first chapter from scratch, the one titled CHILDHOOD, as a brief little 4-page recap. I have two more major chapters to do.


Current Query Stats:


The Story of Q (main book) — total queries = 455
Rejections: 361
Outstanding: 93

.. As NonFiction— total queries = 333
.. Rejections: 313
.. Outstanding: 20

.. As Fiction— total queries = 122
.. Rejections: 48
.. Outstanding: 73

Guy in Women's Studies (second book) — total queries = 22
Rejections: 21
Outstanding: 1

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ahunter3: (Default)
Review — MMF by David Kimple, at The Kraine Theater 85 E. 4th Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan (NYC)

August 22, 2014

Dean: Mike Mizwicki
Jane: Courtney Alana Ward
Michael: Andrew Rincón


I attended this performance with my partner Anais_pf; what had brought it to our attention was a mention on a polyamory-related website, describing it as a new play about the breakup of a polyamorous relationship. Or, to quote directly from the blurb, "When Dean, Jane and Michael's polyamorous relationship comes to an end, the trio is forced to deal with the consequences of love in a nontraditional relationship. MMF explores the realities of love, need, want and people who don't know the difference."

I am polyamorous myself (I have two other partners in addition to Anais) and all of my partners either currently have or in the past have had other partners, whom I've known and hung out with, as well as meeting many if not all of their partners. Because issues and problems that affect polyamorous relationships are sometimes unique to polyamory, and even those that are not often take on additional complexities in a polyamorous situation, we often attend presentations and read books and listen to podcasts about how to deal with such things as polyamorous people, so I was anticipating that MMF would explore the additional complexities and special circumstances involved in the breakup of polyamorous relationships.

The play wasn't at all what I expected. Of course, in the theatre, getting something other than what you were expecting isn't necessarily a bad thing.

SYNOPSIS: Dean, Jane, and Michael are mutually romantically and sexually involved as a triad. This is a situation that emerges from, first, Dean and Michael meeting cute and Michael staying at Dean's, and then, before they've really jelled or decided they wanted to be each other's boyfriend, Jane saying hello and becoming involved with both of them and moving in as well. (Hence, none of the three of them sought out a polyamorous situation on purpose.) The three of them apparently thrive for awhile as a happy triangle until, at some point, they don't. We're brought into the story by Dean's reminiscences at some point after the breakup, as he thinks back on how it all happened: how they became involved and how the breakup transpired. Within the first 4 minutes of the lights going up, Dean states that he's missing someone he is "NOT SUPPOSED TO miss", which both introduces the reminiscences and sets the emotional tone of the threesome's knotted tangle of unspoken rules and undefined obligations.

Playwright David Kimple chose to skip between timeframes, bouncing between the Dean of the current moment (as he ponders his memories and listlessly interacts with Jane) and the earlier period that he's recalling for us. This trope enables him to reveal the structure of the breakup chronology in a sequence more interesting and suspenseful than a chronologically linear telling might be capable of, but often at the expense of clarity. At several points, individual dialogs and interactions were presented that left me confused about the order in which things had happened: a discussion between Jane and Dean about Jane's family coming to meet him seemed to occur before Dean and Michael met, creating the initial impression that Jane and Dean had been together first. The overall picture was filled in for us in disjointed segments and only became clear as it became more complete towards the end.

Mike Mizwicki, Courtney Alana Ward and Andrew Rincón gave a compellingly stark and believable portrayal of anguished individuals in interaction. Their respective characters, Dean Jane and Michael, exuded a most infectious frustration that quickly made me want to backhand each of them in turn. Polyamory is a lifestyle choice that requires communication and emotional patience and honesty, a point illustrated in MMF by displaying the outcome of their absence. At no point did any of the trio attempt to discuss with the others what it was that they were doing and how they ought to go about doing it. Not once was the word "polyamory" mentioned, nor was there any sign at any time that they'd noticed that there exists a polyamorous community or that polyamorous people have issues that might be of concern to them. It was not obvious whether they'd ever discussed whether they would opt for sexual exclusivity among the three of them and what their various opinions on the matter had been if they had, but we see both Dean and Michael becoming upset when two of the members of the trio have sex in the absence of the third and again when one of the three has sex with an outside person.

We observe them flying blindly in the fog, trying to relate to each other without definitions. When contemplating introducing Dean to her family, Jane flounders. "I want them to meet my.. my.. my YOU." The breakup is precipitated when Dean's strong feelings for Michael lead him to conclude, apparently without much reflection on his options, that the strength of those feelings necessitates breaking up the trio so the two of them can pursue a relationship as a couple instead. It's precisely the kind of relationship trainwreck one would expect in the absence of people sitting down to talk about whether a polyamorous arrangement is what they want for the rest of their lives, or is something that is OK for now until the Real Thing (a monogamous committed relationship) becomes available, or if in fact they hold any kind of idealized sought-after relationship arrangement or are just taking things as they come and seeing what happens.

All three of the participants are immature and insecure; they badger each other, deliberately inflicting guilt or trying to evoke a sense of obligation as they pry at each other for reassurances that they then cannot believe; they constantly deflect sentiments and thoughts that they are too scared of to be willing to hear. They repeatedly beat each other over the head with imputations of broken promises and bad faith when the promises mostly seem to have been assumed rather than discussed, and where the notion of assuming good intentions appears never to occur to anyone. Each of them showcases their own fears and pains as if proof that one or more of the others had deliberately inflicted them.

Sadly, these are entirely believable scenes, if not pleasant ones to observe. These communication problems are not unique to polyamory and are in evidence on the sidewalks of our nightlife streets to any evening pedestrian out for a city stroll. It's just so much more important to overcome them if one is going to pursue successful polyamorous relationships.

MMF is a well-wrought drama rendered by the three actors in evocatively unsettling tones and phrases and punctuated with awkward pauses. The material is solidly and believably human, the characters three-dimensionally real. But, as my partner Anais remarked, "I'd hate for people to see this and think that this is what polyamory is like!" (I replied, "Yes, that would be as bad as seeing Romeo and Juliet and thinking, 'Oh, so that's what dating is like!' ") Perhaps David Kimple should bring MMF to polyamory conferences to illustrate the pitfalls of poor communication strategies.

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ahunter3: (Default)
In my previous entry, I mostly just quoted the review in its entirety and then sat there basking in the praise. You can't blame me! ** sits here rereading the review again while drinking my coffee **

I will however note that there were two comments that pointed to possible changes or worrisome considerations, which I'll address here.

* The indistinct time frame: it struck me as a valid point that despite an occasional mention of the year in later chapters, all through the childhood section the reader is left to guess when all this is taking place. Combined with the comment from Alicean Brick, the previous reviewer, in which it was pointed out that I need to punch up more awareness of when this was taking place and remind (or educate) the reader about what-all was taking place w/regards to gender politics and etc and hence the cutting-edge nature of what I was trying to write about and say to people (i.e., the writings and other behaviors that got me locked up), this is an additional opinion that I need to do a better job of grounding my story in time. I've done some of that now, entering some additional mentions throughout the book of what year it is and in some cases snippets of what else was going on in the world. I want to do more of this, especially snippets of information about what might have been taking place with regards to gender politics alongside of what was going on with me in these various chapters and sections.

* Taking a long time growing up: although the reviewer said it wasn't necessarily a problem -- "Everything you included seems interesting and relevant, so I couldn't tell you what (if anything) to cut" -- it was at least surprising enough to generate comment that so much of my book was focused on the years before I had grown up. I've actually given myself several days to contemplate that and mull it over. I wanted to write about the years in which these gender issues became intrusive and problematic for me. At each stage I wanted the reader to be able to see how the situation had developed, based on a combination of understanding from the previous bits how I was as a person going into the situation and then reading what happened and how I'd felt, how I'd reacted, and how people around me had reacted in turn. Of a 300 page book,
the first 18 pages are childhood, the next 112 are junior high and high school (hence adolescence), for total of 130 so far, and the rest of 300 pg book are early adulthood, culminating in my attempted coming-out at 21 as a university student. I suppose the bottom line is that if the book loses entertainment value (or impact) in some fashion for dwelling too much on my early life, it's a problem, but for the moment I'm inclined to think (and hope) along with my reviewer that "everything seems interesting and relevant" and not worry about it unless other folks identify it as a worrisome concern.


In other news: on a gender-related forum it was mentioned that the GenderBread diagram (mentioned also by alicean brick, my first reviewer) has been pointed to and its author accused of plagiarism.

That's an item of some controversy (a counter-argument has been made that the original diagram had been made available for adaptive public use by anyone who thought it would be helpful) and for the moment at least I'm going to skip making any further comment on the plagiarism angle. I'll say this much about the diagram itself: I think it makes a useful introduction of the complexity and multi-faceted nature of the topic, especially if one were addressing a group of students or other people where a decently large percentage of the audience would have most likely thought in more simplistic terms: either "you are male or you are female, what else is there?" or perhaps "you are male or female and you are straight or you're gay, what else is there?". I do NOT regard the diagram as comprehensive (not that comprehensive is even necessarily a possibility). For example, on the "Attracted To" pole, the GenderBread 2.0 diagram offers two arrows, both of them starting with "Nobody" and stretching towards, respectively, "Men/Males/Masculinity" and "Women/Females/Femininity". Then below that, "5 (of infinite) possible plot and label combos" reading "straight", "gay", "pansexual", "asexual", and "bisexual". The author is obviously aware of that the graph isn't comprehensive there, but I'll take this opportunity to point out that there's a problem with a single arrow that treats attraction to "Men" as conterminous with an attraction to "Males" or even "Masculinity", and likewise concatenating an attraction to "Women" with attraction to "Females" and to "Femininity". Just as one's own gender expression may diverge from one's biological sex and gender identity, one's attaction to another may have multiple dimensions which don't overlap in the most conventional / expected ways. Joanna Russ, author of The Female Man, had her main character, a self-identified Lesbian, pondering these issues:

Once I felt the pressure of her hip-bone along my belly, and being
very muddled and high, thought: She's got an erection.
Dreadful. Dreadful embarrassment. One of us had to be male and it
certainly wasn't me...Does it count if it's your best friend? Does it
count if it's her mind you love through her body? Does it count if
you love men's bodies but hate men's minds? ...Later we got better

If one can BE (for example) a female-bodied person who thinks of himself as a man, one can be attracted to female-bodied men. Or one's attraction could mostly have to do with the biological sex (female people) and could include such people regardless of gender identity and expression. Or, as is the case for many younger folks I've spoken with, attraction is mostly around one or more genders that the person has a sexual affinity for, regardless of the biological sex of that person's body.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Another Advance Reader's Critique! A Really NICE one!



First, for the sake of juxtaposition, this comment from someone on a message board that I frequent, where I've mentioned my book:


> Can anyone make heads or tails of AHunter3's um, "memoirs"? So he's
> basically transgendered, except he's not, he's not gay, straight, bi,
> asexual, or anything. But he's like, a girl in gender, a man in sex,
> and attracted to women. But he's not trans, or straight. But he's not
> gay or bi, or cis. But uh, he's genderqueer. Because when he was
> growing up, he liked hanging out with girls. Ummm...
>
> Anyone else confused? I mean, whatever floats your boat dude, but uh,
> okay.


And now, without further ado, this message from a fellow writer who identifies as genderqueer and who responded to my request for beta readers:


------


Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I'm chronically late, but I've finished your memoir at last, and I'm ready to share my thoughts. I didn't get pulled into the story immediately, but I was hooked after the first few pages. After that, I only stopped reading when I absolutely had to, and mostly finished it in two sittings. If I'd had a paperback or Kindle copy, I probably would have carried it around with me and finished much earlier.


I'm going to start at the beginning of the book and share my overall impressions later. While I didn't relate very well to most of your childhood (maybe because I grew up in a different time, maybe because I wasn't raised as a boy), I still found your experiences readable and more compelling than most novels or memoirs that cover the main character's childhood. I don't think you specifically mentioned the year until later on, but it was easy to figure out a general time period from the context and evocative descriptions. What I did relate to from the beginning was your relationship with your family. I think you pinned down how it feels to have family members who want to support you, but don't really know how.


I noticed that you included and named lots and lots of characters early on, and I expected to have trouble remembering who was who, but I never actually ended up confused. Your writing is particularly clear and easy to read in the first half of the book. To be honest, I especially enjoyed the way your writing style changes a bit while describing romantic or sexual experiences. Something about it managed to bring back the exact feeling of being a confused, curious adolescent. The one potential flaw I can identify is that you spent a very long time talking about growing up. Everything you included seems interesting and relevant, so I couldn't tell you what (if anything) to cut, but the early sections go on for quite a while compared to what comes later.



Whenever you included detailed descriptions of the scenery, I found myself really enjoying them, and I think you might benefit from adding a few more lines describing the setting to help ground readers during sections that are mostly focused on your thoughts and ideas. That brings me to the one real flaw in the second half of the story -- while the parts of your life that came after you first enrolled in college had me nodding, agreeing, and remembering having the same thought processes, the writing sometimes seems abstract and unfocused. If you can pin down a few more tangible details and add them in, I think it would help the whole story flow together more smoothly.



I truly did relate to so much of what you experienced after you first started trying to figure out what exactly was different about you. I loved one particular quote: "I had some colored construction paper and I'd made little homemade signs and taped them to the walls of my bedroom. One of them — taped to my ceiling instead of to one of the walls — captured a kind of court jester feeling, declaring that my role in life was to "freak you out" to never be what you defined me as, because the moment you think you know, you cease to look and see."


Those few lines made me feel understood in a way no work of literature ever has before. They summarized many of my favorite parts of your story, from the horrible, paranoid acid trip to the way others never really stopped trying to neatly identify you with labels they could understand, to the way people who did understand you suddenly started appearing in your life almost as soon as you began to get comfortable with yourself. My experience has not been the same as yours, but I think you did manage to capture the aspects of it that we all have in common. I'd be very surprised if anyone else who identifies as genderqueer were to disagree. There aren't enough genderqueer voices out there in memoir or fiction, and I think yours is well worth hearing. If I were a little younger, or had a little less time to devote to figuring myself out, I think I'd have learned a lot.


A few final notes -- I was impressed at how fair and unbiased your writing is in respect to all lifestyles and genders, and how accessible it is to people who don't necessarily share your experiences or opinions. I also liked your dry sense of humor, and I suspect you used it just enough to give the reader a sense of what it might be like to have a face-to-face conversation with you. While I can picture you being asked to play up the more dramatic aspects of your story, or clarify and define your gender identity earlier on (especially if you're aiming more to educate people rather than to support those who've had experiences like yours), I personally think that your memoir is ready to be sent off to an agent right now.


Let me know if you have any questions or requests, or if anything I've written is unclear, and thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be a beta reader. I can't wait to see The Story of Q in print someday, which you and your story wholeheartedly deserve.



------------


I think that review is the kind of thing I'd dearly love to see printed about my book some day. It came in several days ago (although I just got permission to share it in public), and I still can't stop smiling about it!

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I have several readers holding a copy of my book, having promised me feedback, and I have material back from some of them now.


Alicean Brick, an editorial assistant who describes herself as genderfluid, volunteered to be an advance reader, and gave me these comments , and gave me permission to share them:




(Alicean Brick comments in italics, with my own comments interspersed)


(She writes): Are you familiar with the genderbread person diagram?




I would suggest that YOUR diagrams and theories be illustrated in the printed version.





The genderbread diagram (in my opinion) is a much better diagram for introducing a wider gender theory than those I've seen used elsewhere.


Most of the expanatory diagrams I'd seen as of 1979-80 were far simpler, far more reductionistic things: the one-dimensional Kinsey 1-6 scale (gay to straight), for example.


As far as my own diagrams...in the "Humans and Sexuality" class I was enrolled in Spring of 1980, there was a diagram that looked sort of like this:
HSbook

Although it wasn't overtly stated that way in the book, what I got from the diagram that the same personality or behavioral characteristics (left hand side characteristics) that would make a male person straight would make a female person gay and the characteristics (right hand side characteristics) that would make a female person straight would make a male person gay. So in my own paper later, I drew two diagrams of my own: first this one, which ALSO made some non-explicit assertions (that opposites would attract, all across the spectrum);
allan01
then THIS one which illustrated a social force that I felt was in effect, that defined heterosexuality in terms of one narrow band and tried to extinguish those who did not fall on it:
allan02

Anyway, yeah, I've been thinking I do want to incorporate more of what it was that I was trying to say back in 1980. Ideally, I'd like the reader to finish the BACK TO UNIVERSITY chapter (the climactic chapter) thinking that A, yes, I had upset people at the time because they did not understand what I was trying to say, but B, not because what I was trying to say was nonsense-babble; that it was actually cutting-edge gender theory considering the timeframe, even if it wasn't expressed very clearly; and that part of why people reacted as they did was that the content was disturbing to them, which ALSO played a role in their failure to understand: many of them were backing away from it, squirming.



Continuing with Alicean Brick's comments.






Some readers may have a difficult time grasping what a contrarian or anarchist you would have been considered at the time by our prevalent views and cultural norms in that era. It was good that you mentioned examples of other people who had been locked up for seemingly no good reason. your references to what politics and current events were going on at that time help put things into perspective. I would give further examples throughout the book of cultural clashes between gender variant folk and government or society as a backdrop that would illustrate what a deviant you would have been considered at the time and to illustrate what a precarious tight rope you walked on.


your older readers will get this if they remember that time period but it will be missed by your younger readers who will have no recollection of those times. you should amplify the fact that by choosing to be true to yourself and by being who you wanted to be , you were risking your life as well as the image and reputation of family and friends.


you were no doubt a person of great conviction and very brave or daring to be open at that time about who you were. I would like your readers to fully understand this as I think that your story hinges on it.


I'm sure that you could easily pull up some news stories from that period of gender variant people being beaten, abused, slandered and mishandled by the authorities. sprinkled throughout the book this would illustrate the cultural minefield that you bravely crossed.






That struck me as being a very good suggestion. First off, yeah, it helps position the book's timeframe in general, and lest there be some readers who around this point wonder why I didn't just hie myself off the local Albuquerque LGBTQ center and explain my situation, it could be really useful to bring to mind what the awareness-level of the culture was in 1980, both the general population and that of the gay-lesbian-etc subculture that would have been available to me at the time.


Some notes I made, insufficient for me to begin a revamp of that chapter, but with that intent in mind:


* Dan White had shot and killed Harvey Milk and George Moscone in 1978; in 1979, Dan White was found guilty not of murder but merely of manslaughter. His trial gave rise the phrase "twinkie defense"; his defense attorney said he wasn't in his right mind at the time.


* Renee Richards, the M2F transgender tennis player, had recently won the right to compete in tennis tournaments. Her book SECOND SERVE was not out yet, though, and would not make its debut until 1983. Some opponents warned us that if she were allowed to compete in women's events there would be a mad rush by male tennis players to get sex change operations so they could compete against women for women's tournament prize money.


* The term "trangender" itself made ITS debut in 1979. For me and most other people, the term in use was "transsexual" and it was definitely hard-wired to the expectation that you wanted to change your body.


* The 1979 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights was one of the first major event-occasions where the "umbrella" was explicitly extended to include trans people. In the years leading up to it, the issue was very much up in the air, with some gay and lesbian activists opposing the inclusion. Some felt it made the movement too much of a circus and would delay general-public acceptance, and some lesbian feminist activists in particular did not want to extend the umbrella of FEMINISM's definition of "woman" to include male-to-female transfolk. Jan Raymond's book THE TRANSSEXUAL EMPIRE was publishes in 1979, in fact.


If you readers happen to think of some highly relevant events that happened in 1979 or very early 1980, add some to the list!





And then finally some feedback about the emotional content of the early section:



I'm rereading the childhood section and it really seems very lifeless and flat. Im not seeing much on your reactions to being teased Or how you were treated. Did you cry or if not I think you need more on how those situations made you feel. How each one was another piece of your confidence or self esteem getting chipped away. What were you thinking in the morning before going to school? Did you dread the thought of walking into class? What did those feelings feel like? Did it make you nervous? Did other kids or adults see fear in your face? Did your pulse race or your speech stammer? What was the reaction of the other kids when they teased you? How could they tell they were getting through to you. Did you cower or run. I seem to be missing the whole fabric of emotions from the adults to you and the other kids.


While you were being teased what were your thoughts and feelings? While being teased did you reflect on or have flashbacks to previous times that you have been singled out? While being teased what did you fear happening in the moment, that you would be kicked out of school? Would your parents be ashamed of you? That kids would beat you on the playground or attack you after school on the way home?


I know we have all been in that situation before but as the reader I need to be shown how it made you feel.







Three things, quickly:

a) In my childhool, a good portion of the time my reaction was basically a nonplussed WTF?? sort of thing. I've tried to conjure up a solid sense of me and my head at the time, and the out-of-nowhere nature of some of the behaviors that I encountered.


b) I actually do have sections in the CHILDHOOD chapter that aren't exactly lacking in both emotional and cognitive content, once these events had sort of built up to a critical mass and gotten me worried as well as scraped raw.


c) If my manuscript comes across as lifeless and flat (or the first chapter of it does, which is 98% as bad), that's a problem, but I want to see further feedback to see if that turns out to be a general assessment. I think it may be a matter of style. I hope to post more review material from other readers.

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